Running back Andre Ellington (38) and the Cardinals begin mandatory minicamp on Tuesday.
Years ago, the arrival of minicamp had a distinctly different flavor.
League veterans who had been working out on their own – or not working out much at all – would return to their NFL teams for the mandatory portion of the offseason program. Back then voluntary workouts began in mid-March, and with the dangling carrot of football games still several months away, many players would skip portions of offseason work with the team.
Since the implementation of a new collective bargaining agreement in 2011, the offseason schedule has been reduced considerably, so while the last few weeks have still been voluntary, the workload is more manageable. As such, attendance for the Cardinals OTAs and other workouts has been very high, with only established veterans
missing a day here and there.
Minicamp will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the Cardinals, and while it may technically force everyone to be present, the feel will be very similar to the OTAs because there won't be a stream of guys entering the fray.
"We've never had that problem of guys not showing up," coach Bruce Arians said. "It's a credit to them. They're here working really, really hard."
If the coaches had their way, the rules would revert to old form, where the players could show up earlier and stay longer. But for a guy like veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, the new format feels good.
"You get to spend more time with your family, more time away from football, and then when you get back into it you're that much more mentally refreshed," he said.
The key now is to use the limited time wisely, and the Cardinals have been doing what they can in that regard. Instead of having all 90 players on one field, they've been split into two, which has given the inexperienced players more hands-on experience.
"The league has changed so much since I got here," Alexander said. "When I first got here, rookies couldn't buy a rep. Maybe one or two in practice. Now, splitting fields, everybody getting reps and that experience, and that's why you're seeing more young guys now play early and effectively."
The Cardinals will have a longer break than usual after minicamp because the season is starting later, with the arrival of training camp coming no earlier than July 31, compared to a week or two sooner in years past.
Triple-digit temperatures have become common in the Valley over the past couple weeks, which isn't easy on the players even with their morning workouts. Alexander said the key is to stay focused through these final offseason tune-ups so the production can continually ramp up as the season draws closer.
"Each week you want to build upon your skill-set and also your knowledge of the game," Alexander said. "Maybe in Phase 2 you were making some mental mistakes and not really communicating. In the OTAs, now you're comfortable with what you're doing, so then in minicamp you can start telling other people, communicating and being more vocal. That's when the defense plays faster, you have less mental breakdowns and become better."
Pictures from the final OTA of the 2015 offseason